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Please excuse me for not having a column the last two weeks. I do compose my columns myself and I have been a little busy on the floor of the Legislature; as you know I do not shy away from a debate. I do appreciate correspondence from you on legislation, and many times I find a pearl of wisdom in your words that help form my approach to legislation.
This week, debate on the budget began. Besides time spent by Sen. Ernie Chambers’ instructing us on legislative history and his past accomplishments, we must address spending to match revenue shortages. There are also two major components of the budget drawing debate: how we handle Federal Title X grants to health clinics offering reproductive and family health services, and funding levels for public higher education.
Last year I took criticism from my pro-life friends on my vote to remove a provision in the budget dealing with federal Title X funding. The language was not clear and would have harmed funding for North Platte’s People’s Family Health Services. During debate last year, I learned that the majority of clinics, including PFHS, that receive Title X funds follow the federal statute’s requirement that “none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”
This year, I was included in the discussion on the proper budget language concerning Title X funding. The new Title X language in LB 944 reflects the federal law, assuring that those clinics such as PFHS who follow the law are not harmed financially. Earlier this year, I issued the following statement:
“Nebraskans expect our state’s Title X budget provision to mirror the 1970 federal Public Health Service Act’s language that forbids grants to be disbursed to family planning clinics that perform, assist, counsel or refer for abortions. Nebraskans, by far, are pro-life and they demand that their federal tax dollars will not be used to fund abortions. They must be assured that Title X funding grants will only go to family clinics that promote healthy pregnancies and family health. Therefore, I fully support the governor’s proposed budget language.”
Tuesday night, LB 944 passed General File.
Update on some legislation in which our office is involved:
» LB 758: Sen. Dan Hughes’ (co-signed) NCORPE bill providing for voluntary payments in lieu of property tax payments — passed into law.
» LB 874: Sen. Justin Wayne’s (co-signed) TIF (tax increment financing) law, a clarification on terms, uses and accountability for municipalities’ use of the redevelopment tool — placed on final reading.
» LB 596: Our equine massage practice bill. It was prioritized by the speaker. After fellow supporters of the bill, Sens. Burke Harr and Chambers, pointed out an unintended flaw in its language, we pulled the bill to amend the change needed. The bill is back on the agenda and has wide support.
» LB 778: The Education Committee priority bill was voted out of committee this week. It will limit school board authority to a 5-cent building fund levy and allow up to an additional 9 cents (14 cents total) by a vote of the people. Historically and traditionally, the public has been able to vote on major school construction projects, but with the advent of higher agriculture valuations, many rural school districts’ levies have dropped well below the maximum allowable $1.05 levy; therefore, districts have begun to build schools without the people’s vote. LB 778 will correct that situation and again allow the citizen to be included in major district decisions on construction projects.
» LB 640 is our priority bill. It addresses the inequity in the state school funding formula (TEEOSA) by setting 55 percent as a beginning factor to calculate the portion of local school funding that may come from property taxes. It also lowers the maximum tax levy for school districts from $1.05 to $0.987. Initially, LB 640 would be funded with the existing Property Tax Credit Fund. Last year, as Sen. Curt Friesen’s priority, it had support but not enough to overcome a filibuster. Since that time, the political climate and other tax policy positions have changed. So, there is a narrow path that an amended version of LB 640 can take to become a reality.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.